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Two Republicans Seeking to Challenge Moran Debate

Mark Ellmore and Tom O’Donoghue face off before June 13 Republican primary.

Two Republicans in the 8th Congressional District who want to take on Democrat incumbent Jim Moran agreed Friday night that beating Moran was the top priority.

Both candidates running in the June 13 Republican primary, Mark Ellmore, 47, of Alexandria and Tom O’Donoghue, 41, also of Alexandria, answered questions about the war in Iraq, taxes, immigration and transportation at a live debate April 21 sponsored by the Republican Club of Greater Reston and televised on Comcast.

Both candidates told the crowd of about 35 people that they supported the war in Iraq, would vote to make President Bush's tax cuts permanent and that tighter border control was needed to crack down on illegal immigration.

Ellmore, a mortgage banking vice president of Alliance Home Funding in Reston, tried to distinguish his candidacy by criticizing the GOP for ignoring "the little guy."

"If we do not get back to people issues … we will have no chance to win in the fall," said Ellmore. "The idea of compassionate conservatism does not match their mouths; the message doesn’t match our actions."

He also said he opposed President Bush’s No Child Left Behind legislation passed in 2002.

"This is going to be painful for me to say … but I think [the legislation] has got to go to the trash heap," he said. "I can’t find a single teacher who says it works." Ellmore said the legislation "must be retooled."

O’Donoghue, a U.S. Military Academy graduate who received the Bronze Star for his service in Afghanistan and Iraq, would like to see the GOP do more to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

"I would propose a visionary plan to treat it as a national security issue like President Kennedy did in the 1960s [with the space race]," said O’Donoghue, an attorney with Lexus Nexus.

<b>ON IMMIGRATION</b>, while each candidate supports increased border control, O’Donoghue argued border security is critical to the overall debate. "We are a nation at war," said O’Donoghue, adding that porous borders could jeopardize national security. He advocated a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border.

"There will likely be some sort of fence or virtual fence," he said, admitting that the idea is unpopular. He also opposes President Bush’s guest worker program, arguing it is too lenient.

Ellmore opposed the construction of a fence, saying it would be too isolationist. He argued that borders should be tightly controlled, but acknowledged the groups of workers who take jobs that employers have trouble filling throughout the region, such as housekeeping and construction positions.

The two also differed on how to alleviate traffic in the region. O’Donoghue called rail to Dulles a "glitzy" idea. "But there are cheaper, more efficient ways to get people moving." He said buses could do the job cheaper and better. He said a greater emphasis on telecommuting could help, too.

O’Donoghue also suggested that a bypass be created to "take long-haul traffic off the beltway" — an idea mocked by Ellmore.

"You have a better chance of getting breakfast in bed from Osama Bin Laden than getting a [beltway bypass]," said Ellmore, who said rail is the best solution to congestion in the area.

<b>BOTH ARGUED THEY</b> had the best chance to beat Moran, which even members of the audience conceded would be difficult in a district that is largely Democratic.

"It’s a tough district demographically," said John Palatiello before the debate. Palatiello, vice president of the Republican Club of Greater Reston who moderated the debate, said come June 13 GOP voters will likely choose the candidate who has the best shot against Moran. "But it will be an uphill battle for either candidate."

The district includes Alexandria, Arlington County, Falls Church and a narrow stretch through Fairfax County to accommodate Reston.

Ellmore has tried to position himself as the homegrown candidate who would return Ronald Reagan conservative values and a focus on people.

"I’ve lived in the district all my life," said Ellmore, who lives in the Virginia Hills neighborhood of Alexandria.

O’Donoghue, who moved to Northern Virginia 10 years ago, hopes his distinguished military service will help persuade fellow Republicans that he’s better suited to challenge Moran. Despite the district’s demographics, Ellmore and O’Donoghue agree that Moran is vulnerable. Ellmore, who called Moran "arrogant" and "pompous," said the district deserves a customer service representative. "Anyone outside of Satan would be better than Jim Moran," said Ellmore.

<b>DURING MORAN’S</b> 2004 bid for reelection, he faced a primary challenge from fellow Democrat Andrew M. Rosenberg, who received 41 percent of the vote. Moran won the primary with 59 percent. Rosenberg, a Washington lobbyist, hoped to take advantage of a string of gaffes Moran committed prior to the election, including controversial statements and embarrassing incidents.

The most damaging came in 2003 at an antiwar forum. Moran said, "If it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this war in Iraq, we would not be doing this." After people condemned him for the statement, Moran apologized and was forced to give up a House leadership position.

The 2006 race for the 8th District will also include perennial independent challenger James T. Hurysz, 57, an Arlington quality control manager.

Hurysz, a Democrat, is again running as the option for Democratic voters unhappy with Moran.

Political experts, including Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia, have not listed the 8th District as a competitive race this year.